Hurricane Lee threatens stabilization efforts at centuries-old Maine fort
Bangor Daily News, Maine September 14, 2023
SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (Tribune News Service) — Stabilization work at an 1800s fort damaged by a ferocious winter storm in 2022 began last week, just in time for Hurricane Lee to bear down on Maine.
Until that work is done, there is little that can be done to protect Fort Preble, which was built to guard the mouth of Portland Harbor. Officials at Southern Maine Community College are simply hoping for a good outcome at the fort on the South Portland campus.
“While the damage was dramatic, it is important to remember that the fort has been there since 1808 and battered in every storm since then,” Bentley said.
Fort Preble was built for the War of 1812 and named after Portland native Commodore Edward Preble, a naval hero who served during the Barbary Wars. Garrisoned through the Civil War and used as a training facility during WWII, the fort was deactivated in 1950.
Two years later, the state obtained the property and converted it into the Maine Vocational Technical Institute. That institution eventually became SMCC, leaving the sea-facing granite battlements that also serve as a breakwater and are attached to Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse, in the custody of Maine’s community college system.
A full restoration is not on the table now because it would cost millions of dollars, Bentley said. The college and the system don’t have the budget for that, and even pinning a number down would be different. Instead, SMCC is footing the $171,000 bill for stabilization at this time.
The college worked with South Portland marine engineering firm Tec Associates to develop stabilization plans, then it hired. Great Falls Construction, which works in states across the region, was selected to do the work.
The work entails adding erosion control measures and removing unstable granite blocks, cataloging their locations, then storing them onsite for possible reassembly in the future. The project is expected to be completed by late November, barring any additional damage from Hurricane Lee.
With nothing to be done to reinforce the fort against a hurricane at this point, Bentley said SMCC is undertaking its typical precautions carried out before any predicted coastal storm, including pulling the marine science program’s boat out of the water and moving items likely to be washed or blown away inside.
Bentley said her college takes its stewardship of the Fort Preble, popular with students, locals and tourists alike, seriously.
“We will do everything within our means to keep it from further degradation,” Bentley said.
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